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	Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA)

	October 23, 2002, Wednesday

	The root of American-style terrorism

	BYLINE: By Jack Levin and James Alan Fox


	LENGTH: 866 words


	After the Sept. 11 attack on America and before the
	Washington-area sniper's killing spree, many Americans associated
	terrorism with violence perpetrated by Hamas, Al Qaeda, or
	Hizbullah. Yet the largest number of what the FBI calls
	"terrorist" acts in this nation have not come from the Middle East
	at all, but from our own citizens.  
	FBI statistics show there have been nearly 500 "terrorist" acts on
	US soil over the past two decades - the agency defines terrorism
	as the unlawful use of violence to intimidate or coerce a
	government or a civilian population. Most of these incidents
	involved Americans targeting fellow Americans.  
	Unlike terrorist acts committed in Latin America, Europe, or the
	Middle East, terrorism American-style arises more from
	pyschopathology than politics. The home-grown terrorist seeks to
	send a message - but not necessarily one about our national
	policy. He - virtually all are men - has usually led a life of
	frustration, failure, and obscurity; and he strives to tell the
	world, usually through the barrel of a high-powered firearm and
	occasionally with explosives, that he is an important and powerful
	individual. In a sense, he is playing God. And, certain unhealthy
	changes in our social environment encourage him to do so.  
	The typical homegrown terrorist, or mass killer, is socially
	isolated.  He lacks the support systems that might have eased him
	through bad times and averted his devastating rampage.  The most
	brutal and violent cases seem to be the most telling: In almost
	every mass murder, the killer suffers a loss that, from his point
	of view, is catastrophic - typically the loss of a job in a bad
	economy, the loss of a good deal of money in the stock market, or
	the loss of a relationship as in a nasty separation or divorce.  
	To begin making sense of seemingly senseless murder, we must
	examine not so much the killer's biography or even biology, but
	our society itself.  The clue tothe American-style terrorist's
	motivation can be found in a disturbing social trend that affects
	almost everyone: the eclipse of community, a dwindling of the
	social relationships - family ties and neighborliness - that had
	protected former generations of Americans from succumbing to
	disaster. In an earlier era, family or neighbors could be counted
	on to assist in times of financial or social ruin; today, you're
	basically on your own. Many Americans simply have no place to turn
	when they get into trouble. Without options or support, murder can
	seem like the only way out of an out-of-control situation.  
	At the same time, growing numbers of Americans are opting for the
	solitude of telecommuting and the Internet. They avoid traffic
	jams on the highways, but also give up interaction with
	co-workers. Their neighborhoods no longer provide them with a
	source of friendship and camaraderie. Typically, Americans don't
	know their neighbors' names and faces - but they do know the
	e-mail addresses of faraway acquaintances they've never met face
	to face. We're quick to communicate at a superficial level with
	strangers in chat rooms, but too busy to sit down with our
	neighbors and share conversation.  
	According to our analysis of FBI homicide statistics over the past
	20 years, areas of the country with large numbers of transients,
	newcomers, and drifters - destination cities often with relatively
	low unemployment rates or good weather attractive to those looking
	for a new beginning or a last resort - also have a
	disproportionate share of the nation's mass shootings.  
	So long as they remain back in Omaha, Rochester, or Boston, they
	can depend on their family, friends, and fraternal organizations
	for personal assistance. But when they reach destinations like Los
	Angeles, Chicago, Houston, or Washington, D.C., they find
	themselves very much alone. When times get tough, they have nobody
	around to discourage them from doing the wrong thing.  
	In other parts of the world, community continues to prevail. It
	would be all but impossible for a Londoner to move 1,000 miles for
	the sake of a job. In all likelihood, he'd wind up as an immigrant
	in Moscow or Rome, where both language and culture are
	discouragingly different. By contrast, Americans often move their
	residence hundreds, if not thousands, of miles - in most cases,
	not even crossing state lines. From a practical standpoint, then,
	mobility is no big deal.  
	In preventing future terrorists, like the Washington-area sniper,
	from committing desperate and despicable acts of violence, perhaps
	we should recognize the human misery and suffering of the isolated
	Americans in our midst - misery with no company. These are human
	beings who are very much alone in a psychological sense. They
	could use a helping hand, encouragement and support, a little
	understanding from their acquaintances, neighbors, and co-workers.
	In the end, these efforts may not totally rid our society of
	psychopathic terrorism, but would go a long way to restore the
	American community.
	* Jack Levin is the Brudnick Professor of Sociology and James Alan
	Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice, both at
	Northeastern University in Boston.  (c) Copyright 2002. The
	Christian Science Monitor

	LOAD-DATE: October 22, 2002


	Copyright 2002 The Christian Science Publishing Society